I can only assume Mazda’s designers and engineers practice some sort of magic. Not only do all Mazda’s current cars feel like more than the sum of of their parts, they drive with uncommon vim and vigour.

The Focus-rivalling Mazda 3 is the best demonstration of that. As tested here, it’s powered by a 2.0-litre non-turbo petrol engine making 118bhp and 155lb/ft of torque. That may sound well off the pace of turbocharged rivals, but it’s an eager motor that loves to rev and produces useful performance. Yes, you have to work the gears to keep the pace up, but the six-speed manual ‘box is a joy to use.

Momentum is key to making progress and very easy to maintain because the 3 is delightfully fleet of foot. The steering is crisp and feelsome, the chassis balanced and talkative – and you don’t have to be going flat-out for that to shine through. In fact, the relatively modest performance works to the 3’s advantage, as it’s one of a shrinking band of cars that’s a hoot to drive within the speed limit.

I think the 3 is a desirable object, too. The styling’s a bit busy, but the interior is clearly laid out and the sports car design cues don’t feel forced. Quality and space aren’t at the same levels as some of the competition, though you don’t exactly feel short-changed on either front.

Especially when you look at the price. The special edition Sport Black model driven here gets a reversing camera, satnav, Bluetooth, DAB radio and an excellent Bose stereo thrown in for the £20,995 asking price. Incidentally, Mazda produces one of my favourite infotainment systems – the touchscreen is responsive, the graphics bold and easy to interpret.

The Mazda 3 isn’t the most rounded package in the mid-size hatchback class, but where the Golf is that person at work who’s annoyingly brilliant at everything, the 3 is that mate who’s always a laugh to hang out with.

Mazda 3 2.0 SKYACTIV-G 120ps Sport Black

Price: £20,995

Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cylinder petrol

Transmission: 6-speed manual; front-wheel-drive

Power/Torque: 118bhp; 155lb/ft

Economy/Emissions: 55.4mpg; 119g/km

0-62mph: 8.9secs

Top speed: 121mph

For more information click here

By Only Motors

Quick Spin: Mazda 3 2.0 Sport
Performance69%
Handling & Ride87%
Design83%
Space & Safety73%
Value for Money88%
Gadgets79%
The Positives
  • Entertaining handling
  • Good value
  • Looks great
The Negatives
  • Not that spacious
  • Quality a little lacking
  • Modest performance
80%Overall Score
Reader Rating: (2 Votes)
54%